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Environmental groups, industries, and possibly states today are filing their intent to sue EPA in federal court over the agency's regulation limiting smog. Five groups represented by Earthjustice -- including the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association -- will argue that EPA violated the Clean Air Act by not following the advice of their scientific advisers to issue a tougher standard. They will contend that the White House illegally intervened and allowed politics to trump the science. "The president personally engaged in an unprecedented level of intervention and interference," NRDC's John Walke said today. Today is the deadline for filing intent to sue.

The National Association of Manufacturers and other industry groups will counter that EPA issued a standard that is too costly to businesses, and that the agency did not objectively consider the science in deciding to replace a less-stringent requirement. "We believe that EPA cherry-picked the science to stack the deck, leading to the decision to a stricter standard," said NAM's Bryan Brendle. NAM officials declined to indicate who would join them in legal and administrative challenges to EPA's March 13 rule until their notice of intent to sue the agency is filed today. "We're a group with a bunch of people in it," one NAM spokesman said. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents major electric utilities, and at least 14 governors are among those who have sided with NAM's argument. Environmental groups will likely be seconded by governors from at least several Northeast states.

All groups have 60 days to file legal briefs outlining their arguments. A lawsuit combining all arguments will extend beyond the Bush administration before a final ruling is made. Accordingly, the next occupant of the White House may decide to drop the legal defense and propose a tougher ruling. Industry groups are also appealing directly to EPA to reconsider the rule through an administrative petition, arguing that the agency violated the Data Quality Act by not objectively considering science. NAM's Brendle said he believes an administrative petiton would not be time consuming and delay a final court ruling. But environmental groups, which have not filed such a petition, say doing so could give EPA Administrator Johnson a reason to ask the court to delay consideration of the lawsuit while the agency deliberates on the petition.

An EPA spokesman said the agency will respond to the lawsuit when appropriate, but noted that Johnson "made the decision and the events leading to the final decision are clear. The Clean Air Act was followed and we now have the most health protective 8-hour ozone standard ever." EPA issued a new standard of 0.075 parts per million for smog, which is calculated by measuring concentration of ozone molecules in the air every eight hours. An EPA scientific advisory board urged a standard of less than 0.070. Manufacturers and industry groups had urged keeping the prior standard of 0.084 parts per million.